Generally speaking, abortion laws tend to not be very liberal in the developing world. In contrast, Ethiopia has surprisingly liberal abortion laws that were introduced in the early 2000s that allow for abortion in the cases of rape, incest, risk to the life of the pregnant person, fetal abnormalities, and if the pregnant person is too young to care for a child.
This liberalization was mostly due to high records of unsafe abortion-related deaths; however, Ethiopia does not require proof of any of these considerations, allowing pregnant patients to obtain abortions with relative ease if a clinic is nearby and if doctors agree to perform the procedure. Moreover, the clinics do not impose any mandatory waiting periods, and many doctors recommend getting an abortion within three days of asking and being deemed eligible to receive one.
The government allegedly did this to appease the family planning, women’s rights advocates, and religious groups on either side of the abortion issue. Yet, abortion services are affected when developing countries receive aid from certain countries, notably the U.S.
Turning to the U.S., the Helms Amendment, also known as the Global Gag Rule, was first enacted in 1973, and it prohibited any U.S. aid going to NGOs in foreign countries if abortions were performed or promoted in that country This law was repealed by President Obama, but it still complicated safe abortion efforts in foreign countries as NGOs were confused by the new allowances that took effect during the years the law was revoked. That all changed within a few days that the Trump administration took over in 2017, and reimposed — as well as expanded — the Global Gag Rule to block health assistance to all foreign NGOs that use their own funding to offer abortion-related services.
This funding restriction on abortion conflicts with Ethiopia’s abortion laws and restricts what NGOs can do, effectively discriminating against pregnant people who are seeking an abortion just because they live in a country that receives U.S. foreign aid. It impacts people in developing countries by limiting their access to abortion, even though it is legal where they live. This harmful policy undermines the very goal of U.S. foreign aid organizations, such as the U.S. Agency for International Development, by directly and negatively affecting the health of people in poorer countries, while also “violating medical ethics and trampling on democratic values.”
To help people who live overseas receive the access to abortion they legally deserve, we as Americans must continue to advocate for abortion as a right and a medical health issue here in the U.S. — to protect our citizens’ rights and those of global citizens.
By volunteer Sarah T.